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German chancellor suggests “very limited” changes to CETA possible

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa yesterday. She departs for Germany this morning, but some questions about the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) remain after her visit.

Last month, her Minister of Economy Sigmar Gabriel and her Secretary for Economic Affairs Matthias Machnig called on the European Commission and the European Union’s member states to consider revisions to the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision in CETA. In her public statements in Canada, Merkel praised CETA as a “good opportunity for our economy”, but also appeared to signal some openness to amendments to the deal by adding, “The changes that you can still make are very limited.” That’s a position contrary to the one taken by the Harper government. It says the negotiations were completed in October 2013 and that the deal cannot be reopened to make any changes.

Canadian media reports have focused on their discussion about the discussion in Ukraine. But the Toronto Star reports, “Harper said he and Merkel also discussed economic conditions, the continuing efforts to implement the Canada-European Union free-trade deal and the rise in Iraq and Syria of Islamic state, which Harper termed a ‘jihadist monster’.”

In terms of European media, Deutsche Welle reports, “Both leaders voiced support for the pending trade deal between the European Union and Canada, signed last year but awaiting ratification by the European Council and the European Parliament. Merkel called the agreement a ‘good opportunity for our economy’ at a time of low growth in Germany and across the eurozone.”

Europe Online Magazine digs a little deeper, hints at some trouble with the deal and links it to the United States-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It reports, “Merkel and Harper both supported the pending trade deal between between the European Union and Canada during a brief meeting late Monday in Ottawa. …The agreement, which is considered a possible blueprint for sputtering talks on a US-EU free-trade deal faces opposition from some German political circles voicing feat that European consumer standards would be eroded.”

The Tagesschau.de article also makes the link to TTIP and introduces the notion that the CETA text could still be revised despite the Harper government stating the deal is complete. It reports (in German), “Harper and Merkel defended the controversial CETA trade agreement. …Critics fear too much freedom for citizens and too little consumer protection. In addition, there is criticism that the agreement was negotiated secretly for years. Similar criticisms have been made about the European-American trade agreement TTIP. Merkel sees little opportunity to change CETA. ‘The changes that you can still make are very limited.'”

The Stern article adds to the unfinished aspect of the deal. It reports (in German), “Negotiations on this had been completed last summer, but not initialed. Many people in Germany are concerned that European standards be undermined. Merkel calls these fears as unfounded.”

And the Tiroler Tageszeitung Online article adds the German chancellor’s support for the more complicated ratification process that would involve votes in all 28 national legislatures within the European Union. It reports (in German), “‘I assume that it is a mixed agreement. It is much better that we have a debate in parliament’, [Merkel] said. The European Commission sees the agreement as the sole competence of the EU, which is why only the European Parliament would have to agree. Merkel said they did not want to dodge the discussion. Particularly controversial are courts of arbitration for the resolution of conflict cases.”

In a Huffington Post op-ed yesterday, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow highlighted that the German chancellor may need to call for CETA negotiations to be reopened given her minority government relies on the support of the Social Democrats who oppose the investor-state dispute settlement provision in the deal, as well as due to the growing opposition in Germany to a US-EU ‘free trade’ deal. Barlow says, “Merkel’s reasons for needing CETA to be reopened may be less principled, but they nevertheless present a challenge for Harper and an opportunities for people in Canada and Europe concerned about the power that would be given to transnational corporations in these yet-to-be ratified deals.”

To read Barlow’s commentary Merkel’s Political Imperatives Spell Trouble for Canada, please click here.